Friday, 8 October 2010

CD Review (The Straits Times, October 2010)

Pianist of the Century
Deutsche Grammophon 477 8122 (9 CDs)

Was the Ukraine-born pianist Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) really the greatest pianist of the 20th century? If not, he ran the likes of Horowitz, Rubinstein and Rachmaninov pretty close. Richter had a vast repertoire, and his recordings over the decades, including bounteous bootlegs of dubious quality, are legion. These vintage DG studio recordings dating from 1956 to 1962 however represent him in peak form. The original LP programmes and cover designs have been reproduced, even if the playing time of some discs is very short. CD 6, with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 with the Vienna Symphony and Herbert von Karajan, runs under 37 minutes.

The flipside are some of the best recorded performances in the catalogue. Has Richter’s magisterial reading of the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto ever been bettered in modern times? Few of today’s pianists can find the same brooding quality, ironic charm and steely ferocity for Prokofiev’s Eighth Sonata. The sulphur-spewing eruptions that open and close Scriabin’s Fifth Sonata rip up the speakers like no other. While peerless in Russian repertoire, his Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann and few minutes of Debussy are no less authoritative. This set is a collector’s item worth treasuring.

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